Daniel and the Two Orphans in Holland

Daniel Crommelin (1647-1725)

Letters were written between 1694 and 1716 by Frederick de Coninck (living in Schiedam, Holland) to his uncle, Daniel Crommelin (living in Jamaica and New York during this period). They shed light on a financial problem that seemed to be never-ending. The problem began when Frederic's younger brother, Jean de Coninck, died from an accident that he suffered in August 1690 while he was on a visit to Rotterdam. In the darkness of night he fell into a canal and drowned. Since Jean's wife, Marthe Duval, had died in London some 3 years previously, their two daughters, Catherine (age 5) and Marie (age 4) became orphans when their father died. These children were taken in by their uncle, Frederic de Coninck and his wife, Marie Camin, who were in the process of establishing a tannery in their adopted home at Schiedam, Holland.

Evidently Daniel was involved in some transaction affecting his nephew, the late Jean de Coninck. Perhaps he helped settle his estate and was awarded the money that really belonged to the two orphaned daughters. Since Daniel was a restless individual he was often hard to reach, let alone willing to surrender some of his meagre resources which he needed to finance another one of his ambitious schemes. He made (and lost) his fortune a number of times during his lifetime, so when Frederic finally took up the cause of his two orphaned nieces in 1694 by appealing to have Daniel relinquish his nieces' money, Daniel was both hard to reach and in dire financial straits himself.

Relationship Between Daniel and Sister Catherine Crommelin

Parents: Jean Crommelin and Rachel Tacquelet

Sibling 05 - Catherine Crommelin (1632-1694)
Married (1) Francois de Coninck (1624-1662)
Frederic de Coninck (mentioned below)
Jean de Coninck (mentioned below)

Married (2) Robert Oursel (1634-1708)
Robert Oursel - Died in Jamaica of yellow fever in the company of his uncle, Daniel Crommelin
Marie Oursel - also wrote letters to Daniel

Sibling 10 - Jacob Crommelin (1642-1721) - author of a family biography
completed in 1712 and published by J.H. Scheffer

Sibling 13 - Daniel Crommelin (1647-1725)
Married Anne Testart
Isaac - died with his mother in the New York yellow fever epidemic of 1702.

Relationship Between the Two Orphans and Frederic de Coninck
            4  Frederic de Coninck  
               Born 22 October 1660 Rouen  
               Died 27 March 1722 Schiedam  
               Married 1686 Hollingbourne, Kent, England  
               Marie Camin, daughter of Louis Camin and Anne Santerre  
               Born 14 November 1659 Abbeville  
               Died 16 April 1724 Schiedam  
                         Children, Generation II-1 

            5  Jean de Coninck  
               Born 21 September 1662  
               Died August 1690 Rotterdam (accident)  
               Married May 1684 Rouen  
               Marthe Duval  
               Born 17 November 1652 Rouen  
               Died 1687 London  
                         Children, Generation II-2

 II-2 (I-5)  
            1  Catherine de Coninck  
               Born 25 February 1685 Rouen  
               Died 1725 Barbados  
               Married 22 December 1715  
               Nicolas Caron  
               Died 1725 Barbados  

            2  Marie de Coninck  
               Born 19 June 1686 Rotterdam  
               Died 16 February 1713 Amsterdam  

In 1693 Daniel had left his home at Greenway Court (Kent), England for a new venture in Jamaica where the operation of sugar plantations was a 'get-rich-quick' scheme that lured many European entrepreneurs who had a taste for adventure. He had been living on some leased agricultural property at Greenway Court for about 10 years after his abortive involvement with the notorious pirate, Nicolas van Horn. However, this new adventure also met with disaster shortly after their ship arrived at Jamaica around September, 1693 because a yellow-fever epidemic happened to be sweeping across the island nation. Two nephews, Oursel and de la Chambre, succumbed immediately to the contagion, but Daniel and his son, Charles, survived. Since these two managed to survive another yellow fever epidemic years later (in the New York epidemic of 1702), perhaps they had a gene or some natural immunity that arose amongst ancestors who survived the Black Plague several generations earlier. In any case, since Daniel's thoughts no doubt revolved around the deaths of his two nephews and a desire to leave the plague-stricken island of Jamaica, the timing of Frederic's appeal for money came at a bad time. What follows is a translation of a letter that Frederic wrote to his aunt, Anne Testart, Daniel's wife who was still residing at Greenway Court, England while Daniel and Charles were somewhere in transit between Jamaica and New York.

Schiedam, Holland
31 Mart 1694

Mademoiselle Daniel Crommelin [Anne Testart]

I take the liberty to write you requesting humbly that you inform me how I might write to my uncle, your husband. Undoubtedly you are aware that he is in possession of effects belonging to the children of my brother [Frederic's two nieces]. My half-brother, Oursel, recently attempted to obtain a settlement on their behalf as well regarding the closure of some transaction. [Perhaps Daniel handled the estate of the orphaned children's parents]. The effects belong to my nieces, children of my brother de Coninck, who have been staying with me for some time.

The question would be to obtain some assurance in this country [Holland] regarding this matter. If you have occasion to have my uncle ship you something, perhaps you could include my appeal to have him make willing compensation. On the one hand it would be a saving, and on the other, it would avoid a lot of risks. What bothers me is that my uncle wrote Mr. Camin [Frederic's father-in-law] back in October [1693] that he would relinquish anything that he had at his disposal beforehand, but at the same time he says only that he would be leaving at the end of January for New York [from Jamaica] without mentioning what he intended to do there, or how one could write to him.

I assure you this surprised us a great deal, therefore I appeal to you, my dear aunt, to do something in favor of these poor orphans whose present situation is deplorable and worthy of pity. They have been abandoned by everyone and, without the relief of God, they run the risk of sinking into dire straits. Therefore I request that you write to my uncle, advising him of their predicament. I will also write him but I would have to know where I can address my letter.

I will be able to replace [their effects] in this country through friends, provided I receive a valid discharge by way of a receipt for which everyone would be happy. The sooner, the better! I doubt that my uncle will consider my appeal unreasonable. This being my will, I hope for a joyful conclusion to this matter which touches me deeply. My wife and I greet you very humbly, as well as my aunt, and Jacob. I close with an affectionate hug...

The above letter written at the end of March 1694 suggests that Daniel's arrival at Jamaica was around September 1693 because by October he was already writing to Frederic de Coninck's father-in-law, Mr. Camin. We can also conclude that Daniel and Charles Crommelin left Jamaica at the end of January 1694 for New York - perhaps a good time for departure since it would be springtime when their ship arrived in New York. In the meantime Frederic was perplexed as to how his uncle might be reached in order to obtain satisfaction for his two foster children.

By May 1694, Frederic had an address for Daniel in New York because he wrote to Daniel on May 4, 1694 (still untranslated). Thus Daniel and Charles would have arrived in New York around March 1694. No doubt the issue regarding a financial settlement on behalf of the two orphans would be the subject of this letter as well. Then there was a follow-up letter to Daniel on September 16 / 1694 (also not yet translated). On the same day, Frederic wrote another letter to Anne Testart, Daniel's wife, to enlist her help in facilitating a hasty resolution. This letter reads:

Schiedam, Holland
September 16 1694

Mrs. Daniel Crommelin

I write you again humbly appealing that you might forward the attachment to my uncle, your husband. I would be greatly obliged if you would send it on at the earliest opportunity. It contains a request from my mother [Catherine Crommelin, Daniel's sister who was 15 years older than Daniel].

Mr. Camin received a letter from my uncle dated August 10. He no longer spoke of going to New York, apparently having changed his mind. He sent word regarding the effects belonging to my nieces de Coninck, but instead of remitting the net amount, he spoke of keeping it until it matures when one can realize the interest. He said there was nothing to fear. We don't share the same feeling. We find there is much to fear and that there is at least more prudence in returning this money rather than risking it in any way. It is necessary to consider that this is all that these poor orphans have in the way of property, and that they will sink into deep misery if some misfortune should happen to it.

My mother or I will therefore write to my uncle and bid him to immediately remit the net amount to England or, if he prefers, to my cousin Pierre Testart who will issue him a discharge if he so chooses. I ask you, my dear aunt, to support these reasons for haste so that this matter might be quickly resolved. Please provide us the necessary assurances that the objects of our desire will be sent for. My wife and I wish you and my uncle good health and prosperity. Yours faithfully...

Apparently no resolution was forthcoming because 22 years later (!) the very last letter to appear in Frederic de Coninck's 'letter book' (a book which contained copies of the letters he wrote over the years), was addressed to Daniel Crommelin over precisely the same matter. Frederick's letter dated November 1716 reads as follows.

Schiedam, Holland
November 1716

Mr Daniel Crommelin

I have ceased having the honor to write to you for several years in the hope that others than me would have more success than myself in their requests to have you return justice to my niece Catherine de Conink. You undoubtedly know that her sister died two or three years ago. As for her, she is married nearly one year to one Nicolas Caron, a manufacturer of sorts by profession. It was a sad marriage in all respects. In a word, they fell into extreme poverty.

It is still quite a difficult subject despite requests over a great number of years. All the family wrote to you on this matter including my Oursel [half] sister lastly. However you remain quite inflexible, without wanting to reply, or if you do answer, it is in an unsatisfactory way by saying that it is necessary to take up a collection amongst the family while you have enjoyed with your ease of more than 25 years, wealth which with interest has grown to a considerable capital.

This poor young woman is in a dreadful state while you hold her wealth. You have means; you are able to expand; you have slaves; you enjoy abundance, therefore this inflexible conduct defies imagination. In the name of God, my uncle appeals to you, pointing out your justice, to return that to whom it belongs, considering that you are now in advanced age and soon will be at the end of your career, or it will be necessary for you to give an account to the great Judge of the Universe Himself. He wishes to touch your heart so that you can as soon as possible resolve this business which humanity cries against you and yours.

I write to you with the plea of my niece and other relatives. The said Mr. Caron is about to leave for the Indies and his wife, who cannot afford to go, will have to go and live in a room having been reduced to living by her fingers as best she can. I put before you the plain truth of a situation which touches the hardest of hearts and which, by the grace of God will hopefully touch yours so as to favour us with a prompt, effectual answer which we request, along with news of your family.

Frederic de Coninck

By this time one of Frederic's nieces, Marie, had already died in Amsterdam in 1713, in her 27th year. Since this was the last letter to appear in Fredric de Coninck's 'Book of Letters', we will never know the outcome of this plaintive appeal to have Daniel settle with his other poverty-stricken cousin, Catherine de Coninck. However, she died in Barbados in 1725, the same year as her husband, Nicolas Caron. This may indicate that Daniel did eventually make restitution in order for Catherine to afford her passage to Barbados. Coincidentally, Daniel also died in 1725, in New York some 9 years after this letter was written. He was then 78 years old.

When this letter was written in 1716, Daniel was involved in building his house and Greycourt Inn. The original dated stones still survive.

"Daniel Crommelin 1716 Charles Crommelin"
- the surviving date blocks that were foundation stones in Gray Court Inn built by William Bull.

Besides his building program, money problems seem to have plagued Daniel in his latter years because of debts incurred by his son, Charles, through his various copper-mining mis-adventures. Eventually all of Daniel's considerable property holdings and assets in New York, including Gray Court Inn, were seized to pay off his son's creditors, and therefore the above letters are a further indication of Daniel's precarious financial difficulties which Frederic de Coninck probably didn't fully appreciate at the time.

Click to enlarge.
The 'lien' dated October 21, 1720 listing all of Daniel's assets (including immense tracts of land and 3 slaves)
which were forfeited as partial payment to satisfy the creditors of his son, Charles Crommelin.
Two of his three slaves were native Indians.

Frederic de Coninck was persistent, but perhaps all of his good correspondence was in vain. He wrote several more letters to Daniel over the years between 1694 and 1716, no doubt regarding the same matter. These letters (still untranslated) include:

1695-02-20a - Mentions the departure of Anne Testart to join her husband in America; Death of Frederic's mother, Catherine Crommelin


Throughout this period Frederic de Coninck was living with his wife, Marie Camin, at Schiedam, Holland where he had a tanning business and where he died on 27 March 1722, age 65. Apparently he raised his orphaned nieces as though they were his own children. We can't fault him for doing his best to obtain a settlement that would have improved their financial situation considerably. In all likelihood, Daniel's ability to emigrate to America via Jamaica was made possible with money that belonged to his young destitute cousins in Holland whom he may never have repaid. Therefore, in losing all of his hard-won assets at the end of his life, Daniel may have 'reaped what he sowed'. Had he willingly relinquished the money that didn't belong to him, perhaps Daniel's estate might also have had a happier ending. In that respect Frederic's words to Daniel on February 20, 1695 were prophetic when he wrote, "what consoles me is that if we are not punished for our crimes, at least there is a God who knows how to avenge us of such perfidy."

Reviewing old letters like these produces salient details such as customs, modes of transportation, 'dates of arrival' in different places by immigrants, etc. Also, it's interesting to see how the problem of orphans was dealt with in those days when government social services didn't exist. In short, there's a wealth of information waiting to be discovered in this collection of letters by Catherine Crommelin and her son, Frederic de Coninck, that would be of interest to future historians, sociologists, and genealogists.

- Miff Crommelin
November 28, 2011